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Renaissance - Turn Of The Cards  CD (album) cover

TURN OF THE CARDS

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

4.06 | 442 ratings

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rogerthat
4 stars This is a tough one to call. I have to wonder if Turn of the Cards is really as strong as it appears to be on early impressions and whether its flaws push it closer to the average or do its shining moments push it above the mediocre and closer to greatness. There is evidence of growth but the results are not always very exciting. The band carries on in a sincere vein and yet I don't always feel swayed, much less transported, by the proceedings.

On an album level, this is the first decisive step to establishing the quintessential Renaissance sound. The band seem to have made up their mind that folk is not the way to go. Perhaps, though, they don't quite yet know what they'd like to move on to. This results in the album feeling quite inconsistent and lacking cohesion. At the same time, it has more variety than Ashes Are Burning and because each track offers something different, its moments of weakness become easier to overlook. They also make a clean break with the essential sweetness of Ashes Are Burning and dabble, not always with the greatest success, in darker shades.

Opener Running Hard is one such stab at darker shades. However, the piano intro is not as exhilarating this time around and it feels almost laboured when it gives way to the vocal theme. The interlude dubiously lacks linear movement and plods on the same theme over and over. If all that was not enough, the orchestra plays the vocal theme to close the song in a rather dull fashion. What does grab my attention is Annie's singing on the verse, especially the line "Sounds so bad you let the music take your soul". It is a truly thankless task to breathe life into this rather flat vocal melody but she conveys the change of flavour very effectively.

I Think of You can't seem to decide whether it wants to be folk or R&B. Annie seems to be caught a bit in this confusion herself, evoking a splendid R&B flavour in parts of the song and sounding a little tentative the rest of the time. She still leaves ample evidence of her skill in evoking a rather enigmatic shade of longing, hinting towards melancholy but not fully embracing it. Against all odds, the song winds up quite haunting.

Things I Don't Understand is by far the strongest track on the album. When the band do get their act together, the results are splendid, as with the title track of the previous album. Just like Ashes Are Burning, this track too doesn't lean on a long keyboard intro and wastes no time in getting to the point. But, emotionally, it couldn't be more different. There is tension in the first half of the composition with some rather interesting harmonic ideas, especially given it's Renaissance. The second half is a soaring release very typical of the 70s vein but what's not so typical is Annie's wonderful vocalising. It's hard not to love the track once you have heard that passage and even if the resolution is eventually predictable, it still leaves a satisfying impression.

Black Flame drops the first hint that the band can't really decide which way to go. Acoustic guitar is back and the song leans towards rock, without big riffs of course. Annie's singing is very strong on this track too. Sans vocal grit, she still gets across the feeling by drawing on the power of her voice and delivering with a lot of conviction.

Cold is Being is borrowed from an Albinoni composition. There's not much to say about this by way of description except that it's very well sung again. Annie shines in settings with sparse organ accompaniment, giving great glimpses of her potential again.

Mother Russia is the most fully realized step in the direction of Scheherazade and Novella. While predictable in construct, it is executed exceedingly well and has a strong sense of purpose. Once again, the band gather momentum right at the end of the album. Much like Ashes, Annie has plenty of room here to belt the lines powerfully. This, for a change, is one track she could never quite do justice to live, at least on those recordings that I have heard. Unlike Ashes Are Burning, though, this is grand, sweeping and stately, with the orchestra in full bloom, and thereby the weakness of this style. It is great to behold but struggles to engage and can sometimes leave you cold.

Turn of the Cards promises a good deal and accomplishes less. The band haven't quite realized their new direction yet. Annie is growing in confidence but not quite there yet, except in moments like Things I Don't Understand or Cold is Being. Overall, and in conjunction with their subsequent output, four stars to reward the promise.

rogerthat | 4/5 |

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